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TRAIN CRASH

‘I was going at twice the speed limit: Train driver

The driver of the train involved in an accident in northern Spain on Wednesday in which at least 77 people died has said he was travelling at more than double the legal speed limit when the crash occurred.

'I was going at twice the speed limit: Train driver
A high-speed train derailed near the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela on Thursday killing at least 77 people and injuring over 100 others. Photo: AFP

After the accident which occurred at around 8.42pm (18.42 GMT) on Wednesday the driver of the train told officials from the government of the northern Spanish region of Galicia that the train had been travelling at 190kph in an 80kph-zone.

"I have derailed (the train). What am I going to do? What am I going to do?", Spain's national broadcaster TVE reported a second driver as saying by telephone.

Both drivers were uninjured in the accident which affected a train travelling between the Spanish capital of Madrid and the city of Ferrol in northern Spain.

Those drivers are now receiving the full support of the driver's union, SEMAF.

Meanwhile, the President of Spain's national railway company RENFE says the train involved in the accident had been inspected on Wednesday morning.  

The line where the accident occurred had "a security system" and the train involved had "passed inspection" on Wednesday morning, Gómez-Pomar told Spanish radio station Cadena Cope.

The Renfe President wouldn't be drawn on the causes of the crash but said the train's black box was "already in the hands of the judge".

"The accident is being investigated," Gómez-Pomar said.

Miguel Ángel Cilleros, Secretary-General for Transport for Spain's powerful UGT union said the accident was likely to have been caused "by a number of faults".

He told Spanish fee newspaper 20minutos it was unlikely there was a single cause.

While stressing the train's black box had yet to be opened, Cilleros said problems with the train network's braking system may have been a determining factor.

On Thursday, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy visited the scene of the country's worst train crash in 40 years.

Rajoy, a native of the Galician town of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain where the disaster occurred, is also due to visit victims in hospital.

Spain will observe three days of official mourning for the victims of a train accident, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Thursday.

"Today I will sign a decree declaring three days of official mourning in all of Spain," he told reporters in his hometown of Santiago de Compostela where the accident occurred.

Spain's King Juan Carlos and Crown Prince Felipe, meanwhile, called off their public engagements on Thursday in a sign of mourning for the victims of a train crash that injured more than 140, a spokesman for the royal household said.

One Brit was injured in the accident according to the UK's national broadcaster the BBC.

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CATALONIA

Which Spanish regions are likely to allow people to remove their masks outdoors?

As Spain's vaccine campaign gains speed and the infection rate drops, there are indications that facemasks will very soon no longer be compulsory outdoors in several Spanish regions.

Which Spanish regions are likely to allow people to remove masks outdoors?
Photo: ANDER GILLENEA / AFP

Spain’s Health Emergencies chief Fernando Simón said at a recent press conference that he is hopeful about relaxing the rule about the use of masks in outdoor spaces, as long as the safety distance of 1.5 meters can be guaranteed.

“It is very possible that in a few days the use of a mask outdoors can be reduced. Of course, always guaranteeing that the risks are decreasing,” he said.

However, Simón also added that “reducing one measure does not mean that the same should be done with all measures”. In addition, he asked citizens to go “step by step and be careful until we see the effects that mean we can relax the restrictions”.

Although this will be decided in the next few days Simón does not want anyone to “fall into false assurances”.

Face masks have been compulsory in public in Spain since May 21st 2020, and since March of this year, you are required to wear them in almost all indoor and outdoor settings, even if you’re sticking to the safety distance, unless the activity is incompatible with mask-wearing such as eating, drinking, sunbathing, running etc. 

Regions that could possibly relax restrictions on the use of masks outdoors

If the mask restrictions are relaxed by the government and the health authorities, the regions that could already qualify because of their low-to-medium risk epidemiological situations include Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla y León, Castilla La-Mancha, Extremadura, the Valencian region, Murcia, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands.

Which regions are in favour of the move?

Both Catalonia and Galicia have said that they would be in favour of dropping the use of masks outdoors.

The Catalan government was one of the first regions to open the discussion on relaxing the use of masks outdoors.

According to Catalan Regional Health Secretary MarcRamentol, the Catalan government considers that with at least 30 percent of the population fully vaccinated and more than half of the population having received at least one dose, the matter is worth discussing. 

Not having to wear a mask outdoors will help the summer “feel more like 2019 than that of 2020”, said Ramentol.

President of the Xunta of Galicia Alberto Núñez Feijoo, said last week that he expects the use of masks outdoors will be abolished in July, however on Tuesday, May 18th at the Hotusa Group Tourism Innovation Forum in Madrid, he insisted that it is only “a matter of weeks”.

Although Valencia currently still has some strict rules in place, Regional President Ximo Puig has stated that he is in favour of the mask not being compulsory in open spaces. “We know that in open spaces there is a much lower possibility of contagion and I have been supporting this for a long time – it is not necessary to use the mask in some open spaces, natural spaces or on the beaches,” he said.

Which regions want to keep making masks compulsory in outdoor spaces

Regional authorities in Madrid and the Basque Country, the regions which the highest infection rates in Spain have criticised the national government’s position regarding masks, arguing that’s it’s too soon for masks to no longer be obligatory outdoors.

Andalusia is also against the proposal. Jesús Aguirre, Minister of Health and Families in Adalusia, has said that it would be a mistake since the mask is “the most powerful weapon” with which we have to avoid possible infections within the region. 

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